Han was worried about his son.
Despite being well into his teen years, Ben had shown no desire to rebel against him.
And perhaps Han should have been thankful for that; he had an easy-going teenager. Most parents would kill for that.
But it was, after all, HIS son, and for that reason, he was alarmed.
Han's rebellious streak hadn't really been the product of his age, but rather his obstinacy and distrust of most formal organizations, so it would be no surprise that his teenage rebellion far surpassed his teen years.
But for all the strange idiosyncrasies that possessed Ben, a desire to buck against his parent's rules had never been among them. And Han found that worrisome for a Solo.
Once, when Leia was away for a diplomatic something-or-other and Han and Ben were alone in the apartment, Han had taken out a bottle of Corellian Brandy and poured himself a few fingers.
Ben was sitting at the table, his nose buried in a holo-novel. He slid the glass over to him.
Ben jerked his head up at the sound of the glass against the marble surface. He eyed it suspiciously, then looked back at his father.
Ben's eyes darted to the bottle.
"I'm not allowed to."
"Mom. And the law. I'm not old enough," Ben said flatly.
"Yeah, but you're close. And I'm here. It's fine. Try some."
"Is this a test?"
Han finally pulled out a chair across from Ben and slouched into his seat. "Why do you think I'm testing you?"
Ben shrugged. "Parents don't normally want their kids drinking."
Han didn't want to say that he would be happy with his son doing anything, anything at all at this point, so he tried to change topics.
"It's the weekend. Why aren't you out?"
Ben didn't meet his gaze. "Don't feel like it," he mumbled.
"You don't want to go out with friends? Go wander the city?"
He finally met Han's stare, and he could see it in Ben's eyes. Even though it had been years since the boy's nightmares stopped, he still wasn't sleeping. He dark circles under his eyes told Han that, at least, even if Ben wouldn't admit it.
"Okay, then just you and me. Let's do something your mother wouldn't be happy with. I won't tell."
Han nudged the glass again. Ben just shook his head.
Ben considered the glass and the offer.
A sip couldn't hurt. A sip would make his dad happy. A sip wouldn't be enough to undo everything.
He lifted the glass and poured a small trickle into his mouth.
It burned, tasted like peppered lava searing over his tongue and down his throat. He swallowed with some effort and grimaced.
"Well?" Han asked expectantly.
"I feel like I just drank jet fuel."
"That's the spirit. Have a little more. It gets better."
"I'm actually really tired, Dad. I think I'm going to bed early tonight."
Han looked at his son. He knew the kid was lying, but he wouldn't get anywhere from pressing the issue.
"I guess we can hang out tomorrow then."
"Yeah," Ben said quietly. "Sounds good."
As the lanky boy shuffled toward his room and vanished into the shadows, Han remembered himself.
"Night, kid," he called.
Ben hesitated at his bedroom door. He turned his face to his dad with a sad half-smile.
In the slight light from the kitchen, Han looked at the pale, dark-haired young man, trying in vain to glimpse the eager little boy who had lived in his shadow, always at his heels from the moment he could walk.
He was surprised by how much of his own face he saw in Ben, but how little resemblance there was.
"Yeah, night Dad."
Ben sighed with relief as the door shut behind him.
The temptation had passed.
It wasn't that bad, not really. The alcohol burned, but one or two sips wouldn't be a problem.
He had worked this hard. He couldn't let himself slip.
Be good. That was his promise to himself.
His nightmares were quieter now. He didn't scream, even when he saw his parents die at his hands. He washed his face when he woke up to hide the tears streaks, in case his mom and dad were home to greet him.
He would be good for them, he vowed. That way the Darkness wouldn't get him.
He had a few friends left, or at least a few peers who would still let him tag along with them. But he didn't want to risk it. He didn't want to get into trouble. He didn't want to disappoint his parents. That was giving into the Darkness, he rationalized.
He would love nothing more than to run around Hanna City with the other kids, to play pranks and laugh at their cleverness, sneaking home just before the sun rose.
But that would mean giving into the Darkness.
Ben wanted to be good.
Ben slid into bed, realizing he hadn't brushed his teeth.
The sharp aftertaste of the brandy still bit at his tongue.
Alcohol was the worst.
One sip, he was fine. Two sips, maybe still.
But he didn't know how much he could handle before he lost control.
Control. That was the only defense Ben could cultivate against the darkness.
He thought of his dad in the next room. He could faintly hear the glass clanking against the table as he finished it off and lifted the bottle for a second glass.
He wanted to be his father's son. Wanted to be wild and carefree.
More than that, he wanted the nightmares gone
It was the trade-off he had to make.
He did enough to anger his parents.
He was temperamental. He was moody. He was something they couldn't explain, something they didn't want. He knew they hated him for it.
This was the only control he had: follow the rules. Stay inside. Be safe.
The nightmares can't get you here.
But even when he wasn't doing anything explicitly wrong, he was still... off . Still wrong.
And though his dad hadn't said it earlier, he could feel the thought rolling off him in waves as they argued over the brandy.
Ben turned over, his back to the door, pulled his pillow over his ear, and buried his face in the sheets.
Sorry, Dad , Ben thought. I'm trying to be good.
I wish it was good enough.
Sometime later, he heard Han put the bottle back and saunter off to his own room. He turned off the last light in the apartment, plunging it into Darkness again.
Ben still couldn't sleep.
He rolled over and over until he couldn't stand it anymore.
Rising carefully, he slipped out of his room and padded into the kitchen. He pulled his father's glass out of the sink and tiptoed over to the liquor cabinet.
He opened the bottle of Corellian brandy and poured it carefully, estimating the quantity.
He held the glass carefully.
He weighed the value of sipping it versus throwing it back. He held the glass in his hands, rolling it around against his palms, but made no effort to drink it.
His heart was racing.
There was nothing wrong with what he was doing; his dad had said it himself.
Why did he feel bad about it suddenly?
This won't make Dad happy.
He swirled the liquid around.
This won't make you happy, either.
It wasn't the drinking his dad had wanted.
He wanted to share this with his son, share an experience with Ben. Rebuild the connection that had been fading with time.
Ben stared deeper into the glass as if it would divine the truth for him.
In trying to exercise control, in trying to be good, Ben had erred.
He wanted someone to help him with the Darkness. He wanted to tell his dad about his dark dreams.
Instead, he had shut down.
He had pushed his dad away.
Could he do ANYTHING right?
He had intended to pour the contents of the glass down the drain, sit it carefully back down in the sink, and put the bottle back.
That is what the logical part of his brain had wanted to do.
Instead, his emotions overtook his sense, and he threw the full glass into the sink with all his strength.
The shattering woke his father up.
Ben pushed past a groggy, sleep-mussed Han, who tried to drag answers out of his son, but Ben had charged into his room. This left Han to pound on the door, yelling questions at his son, the boy who cared too much and left too much damage in his wake.
Ben covered his ears with his pillow again, blocking out his father’s shouts until Han gave up and the noise stopped.
So much for being good, he thought.